Saturday 17th August, the Friends of Hemingfield Colliery head down to site, unawares: the forecast fibbed. Early in the day at least, with a downpour catching out many a shorts-clad fun-seeker from Sheffield to Barnsley.
Nevertheless, the early dousing aside, the remainder of the day proved as dry as the wits of our regular volunteers who opened up the pit gates to welcome all comers to another Open Day.
Regular volunteers Paul, Chris, John, Mike and Keith worked on site during the day. The main mission to tidy the lower terrace and bottom of the rear retaining wall to prepare the way for some Bank Holiday weekend working.
Ladders at the ready and hi-vis-ed up, the crew descended to the bottom of the wall to survey the state of play, and to hack back the substantial weed growth from the damp summertime spurt.
John, Mike, Paul, and Chris started clearing away the undergrowth and stacking fallen wall materials. The trusty stump-smashing tools to hand they made short work of tripping hazards, saw off the worst of the brambles and eagerly grasped many a nettle (with gloved hands, mind) in order to smooth the way. Equally, with trowel in hand, years of grime were scraped away from the face of the good masonry wall, exposing the likeliest faces for repointing and repair.
Working behind the safety of a heras fencing enclosure, the lower level work also meant that we could get a better view of the passing engine from the Elsecar Heritage Railway. Here we watched, listened in and enjoyed the heady smell of Gervase – a Sentinel vertical boiler engine (works no.6807), converted in 1928 from a Manning Wardle saddle tank of 1900 (no.1472).
After a mixed working life around Croyden, Dorking and Redhill, it became the first locomotive in preserved steam at the Kent & East Sussex Railway (K. & E.S.R) in 1962.
The Whyte stuff
Talking of all things steam railway related, the experts would describe this plucky engine as a 0-4-0. This mystical numbering is what is known as “Whyte notation” – not a secret cabalistic rite; rather a simplified representation of how many and what kind of wheels are in action on any given locomotive. Mr Frederick Methvan Whyte is credited with creating this system which describes the numbers of:
- Leading wheels,
- Driving wheels
- Trailing wheels
Gervase is a 0-4-0 meaning 4 (coupled) driving wheels. The engine is unusual as the steam drives two cylinders which transmit the motion to the front axle via a chain drive.
Although long neglected and stored outdoors in steadily reducing fragments from the 70s, it was purchased and ended up at Elsecar from 2008 where much restoration work led to the first boiler firing in 2011, before going for further restoration and becoming operational 2013.
Rather like our work at Hemingfield Colliery, it is a story of dogged determination, with much love and support coming from near and far.
Back on top
After a well-earned snap break, devouring sandwiches and discussing everything from the benefits of lime mortar and prospects of HS2, to the current England Cricket team dramas and the development of Council Housing, it was time for a last hurrah, back on the top if the lower terrace, pulling up weeds and bramble-wrangling behind the pumping engine house.
With another solid work session behind us and preparations made for future work, the Friends bade goodbye.
Our next Open Day is scheduled for Saturday 31st August 2019.
Safety and solemnity
The fun conversations and good humour on site today have parallels with the everyday working lives of the miners of Hemingfield Colliery in the past.
The daily dangers to those men and boys were much greater of course, but the teamwork and shared experiences echo the common humanity and remind us just how great the losses were when accidents occurred. In a recent visit to Elsecar Church the Friends were vividly reminded of this in the graveyard.
Grave of Luke Hill, died 1853, Elsecar churchyard
Colliery Accident at Elsecar
– An inquest was held at the Ship, Elsecar, on Thursday, before Joseph Badger, Esq., respecting the death of Luke Hill, miner, aged 27. The deceased and a number of other men were working in the Elsecar Low-pit on Tuesday morning, and whilst he was in the act of narrating a joke for the amusement of his companions, about thirty tons of stone and coal fell upon him. Some time elapsed before the body, which was shockingly crushed and bruised, was recovered. It was stated that these sudden falls are not infrequent in this pit, and that there are no means of anticipating them. – A verdict of “Accidental Death” was recorded.
Sheffield and Rotherham Independent, June 18, 1853, p.6
As we tend to the Colliery site, we remember the sacrifices of miners like Luke and honour the memory of all those that have gone before.